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Ill. towns mourn shooting victims

Event's proximity stuns residents

Six-year-old Maria Wright held hands with her mother, Liz, as the congregation prayed at the Cathedral of Praise Church in DeKalb, Ill. The service was dedicated to the victims of the campus shooting at Northern Illinois University. Six-year-old Maria Wright held hands with her mother, Liz, as the congregation prayed at the Cathedral of Praise Church in DeKalb, Ill. The service was dedicated to the victims of the campus shooting at Northern Illinois University. (Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)
Email|Print| Text size + By Lindsey Tanner
Associated Press / February 18, 2008

CICERO, Ill. - The middle-class Chicago suburbs that send their sons and daughters to Northern Illinois University struggled yesterday with the closeness of the country's latest massacre - this time the gunman grew up among them.

Thousands mourned in church services across the region, including some in DeKalb, the university town where residents have taken to wearing red and black, the university's colors, since five people were killed in the middle of a science lecture Thursday.

Parishioners at Our Lady of the Mount Catholic Church in blue-collar Cicero, on Chicago's southern fringe, prepared for the funeral of Catalina Garcia, the youngest of four children of parents originally from Guadalajara, Mexico. They are longtime parishioners at Our Lady of the Mount, a tight-knit group of low- and middle-income families, many of them young, with some older Czech and other immigrants.

"Their parents are making all sorts of sacrifices to make sure the kids get into colleges. They're selling things, they're taking out second mortgages on their homes," the Rev. Lawrence Collins said at the church.

Garcia, 20, followed a brother, Jaime, to Northern Illinois University, the choice of many working-class Chicago-area families. She was studying to be a teacher, and had talked about coming back to Cicero to teach first grade.

The Garcias were the "typical Mexican-American family," working low-wage jobs to help put their children through school, Jaime Garcia said yesterday at the family's home.

"My parents came here to better their lives," he said. They worried more about their children getting caught in gang crossfire at home than away at college "in the cornfields" of DeKalb.

"It's like the all-American dream cut short," he said.

Investigators still haven't determined what set off 27-year-old shooter Steven Kazmierczak, who killed five students and injured more than a dozen other people with a shotgun and pistols before taking his own life.

At least six people remained hospitalized yesterday, with three in serious condition. The other three were in fair condition. A seventh patient was upgraded from serious to fair condition Saturday.

In addition to Garcia, the dead were Daniel Parmenter, 20, of Westchester, Ill.; Ryanne Mace, 19, of Carpentersville, Ill.; Julianna Gehant, 32, of Mendota, Ill.; and Gayle Dubowski, 20, last of Carol Stream, Ill.

Kazmierczak grew up to the west, in Elk Grove Village. He spent time in a mental health facility in his late teens, and police have said without elaboration that he had stopped taking some kind of medication in the days or weeks before the shooting.

His family has moved away, but the shooting still echoed in the Elk Grove Village. Resident Pat Egan, a heating and cooling repair worker whose son attends the university, described the suburb as "Mayberry."

People there seemed to feel disbelief and confusion over the attack, said the Rev. Hwa Young Chong at the Prince of Peace United Methodist Church.

"I couldn't believe coming from a place like Elk Grove he could do that," said Judy Glomski, who has lived in Elk Grove Village for 39 years. "It's just a friendly town. I guess there are sick people everywhere."

Some Northern Illinois University parents took the shootings as a call to action, speaking out for stricter gun control, hoping to propel the issue into the presidential campaign. Connie Catellani, a Skokie physician whose 22-year-old son is a senior at the university, helped organize a weekend press conference with other university parents.

"It's sickening. What are we supposed to do, surround college campuses with barbed wire and metal detectors?" Catellani said yesterday.

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